Hunting and enjoying the outdoors is the oldest and most-sacred pastime in America. For Carolinians, being in out in nature in search of a gobbling tom, whistling woody or a rutting buck brings true bliss even if the harvest falls short. One way to elevate the experience to the highest level is to be able to recreate on a chunk of dirt with personal ownership and title in hand. But how much is the dirt worth right now? 

Land values have steadily risen ever since it was first given away by the King of England or claimed by pioneers after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act in 1862. Depending on one’s budget and preferred location, a potential owner can find an ideal piece of land without too much effort. The price of land today can cost from a few hundred dollars to more than $100,000 per acre in areas prone to commercial development.  

Todd Crosby, an associate broker of American Forest Management Land Sales out of Walterboro, S.C., has been helping landowners buy and sell land in North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia for more than a decade. For Crosby, it is never a bad time to pick up a chunk of recreational land, even today’s economic situation.

“Land values are not down by any means, unless you are using 2007 and 2008 as a benchmark. That was just a bubble in the market that had to be corrected,” said Crosby (843-539-2506). “Raw land values have always trended upward; that makes it always a good time to buy.”

Crosby called 2013 and 2014 his “best years” in sales volume out of the last 13 years. “The next few years are looking to be following the same path.”

While the oldest economic dogma on earth, supply and demand, still drive prices to some degree, a few other factors control the sales volume and demand for recreational properties. Buyers today carefully examine a property to uncover its current and potential uses, as well as the potential for a passive income opportunity to help pay the note.  

“Buyers are more cautious today and are not just buying for strictly recreational purposes anymore. The value of timber and the improvements already in-place are major selling points,” he said.

The acreage of a tract is only a portion that contributes to its value. Timber value is a true commodity and plays an important role in the value of a property, no matter where it is located. 

“Any tract with a significant amount of timber will directly affect the total value of the land. The timber value, in some cases, can carry as much as 50 percent of the asking price,” he said. 

Beyond timber values, other attributes will contribute to the value of a property that will make some worth more to some than others. 

“Take the bare land value based on recent comparable sales, find out what improvement value is, determine the timber value and then marry the three will give you your land’s market value,” he said. 

The establishment of food plots, waterfowl impoundments, an established road network, access to blacktop and dwellings with civilized amenities make a major contribution to a tract’s value and are considered the improvement values. From time to time, a few tracts show up on the market that leave little to the imagination in meeting all of their recreational hunting and fishing needs, but these tracts bring a high price tag. 

According to Crosby, there are still buyers for these types of tracts, but the majority of sales over the past few years are tracts with fewer improvements. The ability to gain title to large parcels with highly developed recreational attributes in place is not very achievable for the typical income earner. 

“Buyers are looking for a tract at the lowest price that doesn’t have the bells and whistles but the potential to take ownership and then do the work themselves,” he said. 

Often, location is deemed important, and for hunters looking for good recreational land with ample hunting opportunities, it couldn’t be any more true. The best duck properties are along the major flyways where much of the land is flooded during the  migration. The best deer hunting parcels are found in counties that produce the most record-book bucks. To the recreational user with hunting on the brain, location is a key factor in determining if a property is feasible or not. 

However, other factors almost always affect the price of land more than their location related to prime hunting. The starting place for land prices is the location of the property with respect to its proximity to other geographical features beyond the personal interests of hunters.  

“When you get closer to higher populated areas, land values climb. (If) they are in the path of progress, that brings values much above timber and recreation,” he said. 

Location itself can bring high value to potential industry, shopping centers and suburban development that will trump any recreational land user any day of the week. 

According to Crosby, there is a basic trend for property values between inland tracts and tracts located in coastal areas. 

“Run-of-the-mill properties in rural, undeveloped counties like Allendale County in South Carolina may bring raw dirt prices to around $900 per acre, but the closer to the coast you get, it may trend upward to $1,700 per acre for bare dirt without any improvements or timber value added. The further inland you go, the cheaper you get until you get to an area of growth,” he said. 

Land will always be a good investment when spare cash is available or when lease prices become elevated to the point where becoming a landowner seems to bring a better value for the dollar. From income potential from timber sales to auxiliary values from alternative uses, land will always be a good place for Americans to invest their money. Not to mention, it can be a personal wildlife project that will offer priceless satisfaction in the future. With adequate funds and discrete selection criteria, hunters can still find their own outdoor paradise right here in the Carolinas.